31 December 2009

Chicken Salad For The Soul


Mr. B. was upset tonight. He wanted to make chicken salad for New Year's Eve but could not find any potatoes from any supermarkets he went to.

"Relax, Mr. B. You can look for potatoes tomorrow!" I told him.

"But I want my chicken salad tonight!" he answered.

I found out that chicken salad on New Year's Eve has a special meaning to Mr. B. When he was a little boy, his mother would make a huge batch of this to celebrate the ocassion. The house would also smell of barbecued meat and chicken. Mr. B. remembered eating a lot of these skewered charcoal-broiled meat as they cook. Cheddar cheese in red ball of wax will always be present. Sometimes, there would be honey glazed ham (the whole ham!) where Mr. B. would peel and enjoy the sweet sugar coating. Most importantly, the chicken salad. Mr. B. remembered the creamy goodness accented by the crunch and tang of apple bits. He loved it especially on New Year's Day when he could top a piece of toast with it.

The recipe, I discovered, was quite simple. Nothing fancy. But now that his mom lives across the seas, I guess Mr. B. longs for home cooking, for the wonderful memory of his boyhood and for that mouthwatering chicken salad for his soul.


Mommy's Chicken Salad

Chicken breast - boiled and shredded
Carrots - boiled and diced
Potatoes - boiled and diced
Apples - peeled and diced
Pineapple - tidbits in can (discard juice)
Real mayonaise - 1 or 2 jars
2 tbsp pickle relish (sweet) - optional

Mix everything together and enjoy.

28 December 2009

Back To Square One


Like I am not confused enough about the exact date of Jesus' birthday, I am now trying to figure out the exact date of the New Year! Firstly, I found that different cultures celebrate New Year on different days depending of the calendar used. It could be Gregorian, Hijri, Juche or anything based on the sun, the moon or a combination of the sun and the moon.

The way this day is celebrated is just as complex as the day humans choose to celebrate. Mostly, they light fireworks on the tallest building they can find. If they don't have one, they light up a bridge or a large ferris wheel. Some would just drop crystal balls, or fire cannons, or throw water at each other or burn effigies. But there some things common among all humans. On the eve of the New Year, they eat lots of food, drink lots of alcohol and make lots of noise.

I want to be more scientific. For me, New Year is when the Earth revolves around the Sun once and is back in the same place. That said, I find humans strange. They celebrate the fact that they are back to where they all started - to square one. Imagine I set out to travel from Point A to Point B. I should be celebrating when I reach Point B because that means I have accomplished something or reached a milestone. But if I just make a round ending up in Point A again, what is there to celebrate about? What is there to happy about not advancing any further then where one started?

I have to go ask Mr. B. about this one.

25 December 2009

Happy Birthday Jesus

"I am so confused." I told Mr. B. tonight after he came back from dinner with a small group of friends to celebrate Christmas Eve. "I just read that Jesus was not actually born on the 25th of December."

"Yeah? What else have you read?" he asked.

"That his real birth date should have been spring or summer, and that the commemoration was moved to replace an ancient Roman festival."

"You probably also read about a lot of conflicting stories, too."

"Yes. Theologians, scholars, historians all have different views and opinions about it - the time, the place, the entire circumstance of Jesus' birth. Do you know which one to believe in?" I inquired.

"No, I don't know." Mr. B. answered. "I don't have to know and I don't think anyone will ever know what the real story was."

"Then why is everyone partying tonight?" I got even more confused. "Why are they celebrating something they don't fully understand?"

"A lot of people don't understand. They don't get it."

"I don't get it too, Mr. B." I said.

"All I know is this - Jesus was born. In his lifetime, he preached about love. In his death, his message spread across the earth. Does it really matter what those theologians, scholars and historians say? The most important thing is the message he bought to the world. The message of love and peace. The exact date of his birth doesn't matter. What matters is that humans decided to pick one day in a year to celebrate his birth, to commemorate the wondrous message he brought."

"So it's not about party and food? and gifts? and snow? and Santa and his reindeers?"

"Never. It has always been about his message. If the world, or at least part of the world can come together for just one day in a year to live Jesus' message of loving and caring and reaching out to others, isn't that great enough? Wouldn't it be a better world? Even for just a day? " he explained.

"I see. Can I say happy birthday to him today?"

"Today is as good as any other day, as long as you remember him and what he stood for."

"I understand now, Mr. B. Can I light the candle in our Nativity this year?"

"Sure."

20 December 2009

My Gift To You


Mr. B. was busy wrapping Christmas presents laid out on the table last night. He was still working on them when I woke up at 3.00 in the morning.

"Why do you prepare so many presents for Christmas, Mr. B.?" I asked him hardly able to open my eyes.

"Because there are many people to give presents to," he answered sipping tea to keep him awake. "These are for the people I work with, those are for my close friends, then I got some for my nephews and nieces which I can wrap later."

"I already got my present from D. It's a reindeer horn." I said happily.

"That's great!"

"Didn't you say that Christmas is Jesus' birthday?" I asked.

"Well, yes and no. It's the day set aside to remember his birth, the exact date is really unknown." Mr. B. explained patiently.

"If it is His birthday, why are you giving gifts to other people instead of Him. Isn't that strange?" I inquired.

"It is a tradition. You go out of your way to buy something nice, Wrap it. Write a nice greeting card and give it to someone to make this person happy." he explained.

"So by making other people happy you are also making Jesus happy?" I still don't quite understand.

"I guess so." Mr. B. said as his continued tagging each gift with the recipient's name. "Well, I sure hope so..." he added.

"On my birthday, I want you to please give ME my gift. Don't give it to someone else. I won't be happy if you give it to someone else." I said walking away.

19 December 2009

10,000 Beckers

"I have a great idea this Christmas!" Mr. B. said excitingly. "I am going to make 10,000 teddy bears to your likeness, exactly like you. I will sell them for charity and raise 1 million dollars. But the donors will not get the teddy bears. They will be given to orphans! So 10,000 orphans will have their own Beckers this Christmas. And the donors will be very glad to know that they make 10,000 children happy this holidays! Plus, you get to promote your blog! Isn't that a great idea??"

I gave him a strange look. "That was MY idea. Besides, I don't think that will happen, Mr. B."
"Why not? I think it's a great way to celebrate Christmas! Making children happy!"

"You will be sued for trademark infringement, Mr. B." I said dryly.

"I will be?" he said giving me a puzzled look.

"Big time, Mr. B."

"Maybe I can change the look a little bit, say..."

"Trademark infringement." I interrupted.

"Okay, how about printing your picture in 10,000 t-shirts!"

"Illegal use of image."

"Really? That bad? Or maybe I can take you to the orphanage and you can sing songs for the children and make them happy this Christmas?"

"Music copyright. You need permission for public performance."

"Oh.... what about you lip-synching?"

"Worse. Illegal public broadcast of a copyrighted material."

"I give up!" Mr. B. declared. "I will just print t-shirt with your blog address and sell them for charity."

"Then you will have to ask MY permission."

"Oh..."

13 December 2009

Give Me A Break!


As promised, Mr. B. and D. took me to a tour around the city over the weekend just to do something different. They booked a hotel room and checked-in after lunch. It was a very nice room with a large comfy bed.

After leaving our bags, Mr. B. took me to the place where he works. I didn't like it that much but he let me sit on his desk and pretend that I am working (why I would like to do that, I don't know). After spending a bit of time there, we went to this fabulous dimsum dinner where we had dumplings, spring rolls, tofu casserole and fried rice. Yummy!

When we were all full, we went to this shopping mall with a huge round globe. Mr. B. said we should shop for a bit because we were waiting for the 9.30 screening of the movie 2012. We had fun looking around for bargains although Mr. B. and D. didn't buy anything.

The movie 2012 was entertaining. I liked the special effects a lot. It's kinda scary to think how the world would end but it's only a movie. By the time we finished watching, it was already past midnight so we went back to the hotel to rest. Mr. B. bought ice cream bar to eat.
The next morning, we had a big, big breakfast at the hotel coffee shop. Mr. B. had congee and condiments plus an egg. D. had a combination of Eastern and Western style breakfast plus a large omelette with everything in it! We were so full we didn't have lunch!

After coming back home and leaving our bags, we went shopping again! Mr. B. bought a lot of stuff which he said are Christmas presents for the people in the farm. He also bought a new frying pan for himself. Because we have been quite tired walking around, Mr. B. and D. decided to have a foot massage, which I didn't not do because I don't want anyone touching my paws (feet). Dinner was roasted pork and cream of corn soup. We also went by the supermarket to buy some groceries.

We all came home exhausted. So this is what humans do on weekends. It was fun for me. I hope Mr. B. can find time to do it more often. I have added some photos taken from this weekend in the slideshow to remind me of the good times we all had.
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Photo credit : Patrick Beckers

12 December 2009

Sweet Hallmark Memories

"What are you writing, Mr. B.?"

"Christmas cards. I need to mail them tomorrow so they make it before Christmas Day!" he answered without looking up, carefully writing, doodling, placing stickers on elaborate, glittering cards he had on the table.

"Why not just send them online? It's easier and faster, no?"

"That is so not sincere! I still prefer the good old fashion Christmas cards. I think people will appreciate that you take the time and effort to buy them, write them and go to the post office to mail them!" he said showing me this 3-dimensional card with Mr. and Mrs. Santa Claus costumes he plans to send to his mom and dad. "Nice, huh?"

"Do you get them too, Mr. B.?"

"Oh yes of course! Birthday cards, Christmas cards, Thank you cards. I never throw them away."

"Never? Really?"

"Well, I throw the envelopes away after I cut out the stamps because I collect them. But I keep the cards. Somewhere, I believe. I like reading them again after a while."

"So humans write greeting cards because they are so far away from each other?"

"Not really. They write cards for any occasions, regardless of the distance. It is a very sweet gesture." he said.

I never wrote a card in my life ever. Perhaps I should buy one and mail it back to Mr. B. I am sure he will be surprise to find my card. I will write how much I appreciate him for taking care of me. Maybe I should also send out cards to everyone who reads my blog... but I wouldn't know where to mail them.

Oh well, I will find a way, I'm sure.


Video: Richard Tan singing No One Throws Away Memories

09 December 2009

Christmas, Actually


Every Christmas Day for the last few years, Mr. B. made it a tradition to watch Love, Actually - a British romantic-comedy by director Richard Curtis from 2003.

What's not to love? The movie has an ensemble cast with Hugh Grant, Emma Thompson, Alan Rickman, Colin Firth and many more. It has great songs in the soundtrack (Joni Mitchell's updated Both Sides Now for one). It has about 10 different stories interwoven against the Christmas backdrop. It is funny, warmth and touching. Most of all, it's the ending of the movie. Love, Actually ends with a montage of anonymous persons greeting their arriving loved ones at the Heathrow Airport that slowly enlarges and fills the screen, eventually forming the shape of a heart - all these while the Beach Boys song God Only Knows plays in the background - perfect for a heartwarming occasion like Christmas, actually.

I am looking forward to it this year when Mr. B., D. and I would just snuggle up and watch this movie again.

03 December 2009

All There Is


Mr. B. looks a bit melancholic tonight. He said he didn't sleep well yesterday. Too much in his mind he said. I did observe that he looked quite sad after talking to D. on the phone last night. Maybe it was about what they talked about.

"I am at that stage of my life, Becker." he said in all seriousness.

"What stage?" I asked noting that he just called me "Becker" instead of the usual cheerful "Beck-Beck".

"That stage where insurance companies do not want to insure you and banks won't give you loans anymore." he said.

"Why is that?" not understanding what he was refering to.

"What if this is all there is, Becker?" he answered without really answering my question. "What if my present job would be my last? That I won't be able to buy my dream house? That I won't ever be thin and healthy? That I won't be able to visit all the places I wanted to go to? That I would grow too old to work and won't be able to support myself in my old age? That I won't have anything and be anyone else except for who I am and what I have right now?"

Wow. That was a little bit too much for my little brain but I tried to understand what he just said.

"But, Mr. B., nothing is wrong with your job now, nothing is wrong with this apartment and nothing is wrong with your life!" I tried to reason.

"Yeah but this will be all there is. Nothing more. Done." he replied.
"You're just getting old." I tried to sound happy as I hug him. "There's nothing wrong with that."

As we hugged for a long time right there in the middle of the living room, I wished I have some kind of power to help Mr. B. To say or do something to reverse everything and make everything okay to him again. To calm his heart and his mind.

He is just getting old, I keep telling myself. That is all there is to it.

30 November 2009

Someday I'll Make Him Proud

Humans come in units called families comprise of father, mother and children. Sometimes when children are born, they are already destined to follow the footsteps of their fathers or mothers, or even surpass them. That is because the parents themselves willed so, even when they don't say so. This is where "making your parents proud" becomes a lifelong source of angst and frustration to the children, which they usually carry on throughout their adult lives.

In the human world of materialism, I observe that like being successful means making a lot of money, having a prominent position in a large company, owning a large house and a luxurious car, being a well-known member of the society, or a combination of any of the above. Being espoused to another human with the same level of success would be the crowning glory. Anything less would mean failure. Failure as a person to oneself, failure as a child to your parents. One would then be branded a "loser".

In many ways, I feel the same way sometimes. I must "do something" to make Mr. B. proud of me. Even dogs must learn a few tricks to make their masters happy. Happy and proud. Perhaps if I can show Mr. B. how many people are reading my blog, that would make him proud of my accomplishment. Or perhaps it's not enough, never enough.

Every night he comes home, the first thing Mr. B. would do is to carry me and give me the biggest hug. Perhaps he already love me for who I am, not having to do anything else. Perhaps one day, if I'm allowed, I'll make him proud.


Video credit: Matthew Thomas singing Proud from Britannia High.

25 November 2009

Dreams That Cannot Be

At the beginning of this year, no one knew who Susan Boyle was. This week, she holds the record for the most pre-ordered CD in the history of Amazon and was said to sell more records in the first day of the CD's release in the United States than John Mayer's new album in a week. In a span of a few months and with over 70 million views of her audition clip in Britain's Got Talent on YouTube, Susan Boyle's life has indeed changed.

Listening to her album I Dreamed A Dream, one can sense the sincerity of her voice - not perfectly polished, yet very real. I particularly like her rendition of church music - How Great Thou Art and Amazing Grace. She also managed to make I Dreamed A Dream her own with her unique rendition. Purists criticize the odd mix of genre and her tensed vocalization - true yet forgivable as far as I am concern.

Humans are strange. She was ridiculed for her homely appearance then praised for her unexpected triumph. Now she is being likened to a modern freak show, an exploited old woman. But really, who cares? Susan Boyle realised her dream of being a singer. She has an album that may sold millions worldwide. She may start embarking in a tour doing what she loves to do best - singing. Why can't other humans understand that and just appreciate her for who she is, and be thankful for the wonderful gift of songs she has given?

What happens next? I read that Simon Cowell shall be producing a documentary called "I Dreamed A Dream : The Susan Boyle Story".

23 November 2009

Mr. B. By The Book


One of the most fascinating things I discovered about humans is that they actually make records of what they think. This is usually in the form of written words in pages and bound together to form books. Other humans would read them and learn from the experiences of other humans. It is said to be a very fulfilling act.

Mr. B. always tells me he should read more, that he is not reading enough complaining he usually feels too tired to do it after a day in the funny farm. Tonight, he came home carrying another thick book and placed it on top of all the other books he had beside his bed.

"You bought another book?" I inquired.

"Dan Brown's The Lost Symbol!" he said happily showing me the hardbound copy of the author's latest.

"But you just bought a book from your trip last week and you still have others you haven't finished reading!" I reminded him.

"I know," he said. "I'll finish them one by one in time."

I went to check the books he had on the side table and found 4 half-read books among the gossip magazines, Reader's Digest, Eyewitness Travel Guides and cookbooks. I wonder how he can finish them all when he only gets to read a few pages a night before he starts snoring.

"You should read this first!" I wave Kazuo Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go in front of him. "They are making this into a movie!" Mr. B. was impressed that I knew.

"This one has been sitting here for more than a year!" refering to Mark Haddon's A Spot of Bother, who also wrote The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, which Mr. B. enjoyed a lot.

"I know! I never got to the middle part and had to start all over again 3 times!" he laughed sheepishly.

"And this Paulo Coelho novel?" I asked knowing that Coelho is one of Mr. B.'s favorite author and he has read many of his works.

"Too philosophical," he said. "Get me thinking too much making me hard to sleep."

"Well, good reading!" I told Mr. B.

As I walk away. I saw him checking out The Lost Symbol's book jacket to see if there are any hidden messages on it.

22 November 2009

Three Wise Monkeys


I came across the image of 3 monkeys each covering the eyes, the ears and the mouth. Mr. B. told me it is called the Three Wise Monkeys which embodies the proverbial principle to "see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil".

It was interesting to find out that this philosophy has its origin from a 17th century carving over the door of a famous shrine in Japan. While known as the Golden Rule, "see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil" seems to have various interpretations across different cultures. Most humans believe it means not exposing oneself to things that are evil in order to stay pure. Others associate it with the virtue of having a good mind, speech and action.

The most interesting interpretation I discovered was the phrase being used to refer to those who deal with impropriety by looking the other way, refusing to acknowledge it, or feigning ignorance. In other words, willfully turning a blind eye to a malicious act.

Everyday in the funny farm, Mr. B. had to bear witness to many acts of unkindness by one human to another - dishonesty, hypocrisy, arrogance, pomposity; from superior to subordinates, from peer to another peer. A year or so ago, he would have lost sleep over these incidence or felt bad about allowing it to happen without making a slightest comment. He also found that the less people protest about it, the worse the abusers become, and everything comes down to the rationale that "such is the corporate world".


Wise Monkeys? I don't think so. They are just covering their eyes, ears and mouths in order to pretend nothing evil is happening around them. So sad...

17 November 2009

Thanks For The Adventure


On his way back from business trip, Mr. B. watched the animated movie Up on the plane. He never had the chance to watch this in the cinema so he thought it would be a good chance to see this film by Pete Docter who also directed Monster, Inc., another animated film that Mr. B. enjoyed.

The film centers around a grumpy old man named Carl Fredricksen and an overeager Wilderness Explorer named Russell who fly to South America in his floating house suspended from helium balloons.

Not much can be said of Russell who is at once annoying but lovable. It was the story of Carl and his wife Ellie that made the film worth viewing many times (which Mr. B. did since his trip took more than 10 hours). The story of the shy, quiet Carl and the outgoing Ellie as they wed and grow old together was truly touching. Ellie passed away leaving Carl with her Adventure Book with him feeling sorry for her unfulfilled dream of having their house right beside the Paradise Falls in South America ("It's like America," Ellie said as a child. "only South.")

Towards the end of the movie, Carl finds Ellie's childhood scrapbook and discovers her mementos of her life with Carl after they were married. The last page had a final note from her thanking Carl for her adventure of marriage with him and an encouragement for him to go on his own. Mr. B. said he cried in that scene.

One fascinating thing about humans is that they stay together for a long time as mates (well, at least some of them), unlike us bears who only mate for a season. I guess sharing a life together is an adventure on its own, very much like Mr. B. and D., or even Mr. B. and me. Indeed it can be an adventure that one much learn to be thankful for everyday.

Perhaps that's what's in Mr. B.'s mind when he came back home exhausted and jet-lagged and slept the whole Sunday hugging me.




Video credit: Up from Pixar Animation Studios

08 November 2009

Humane Foie Gras



Last week has been particularly busy for Mr. B. having to entertain colleagues from various parts of the world. This would involve eating a lot of good food and drinking a lot of alcohol. Whenever he had the chance, Mr. B. would enjoy a nice slab of pan-seared foie gras de canard (that's pan-fried duck liver).
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"Do you know that they gavage those poor birds to give you that rich, delicate, buttery duck or goose liver you are enjoying?" I ask Mr. B. giving him an accusing look.
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"What's that?"
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"Force feeding. Humans shove a metal tube down the birds' throats and force food into them so their livers will become abnormally large and full of fat." I explained what I read to him.
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"Really? I thought they found a new and more humane way to produce foie gras?" he said.
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"I think they have. They are now using rubber tubes!" I replied.
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"Those poor birds! What about pate de foie gras? I love pate too!" Mr. B. said.
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"Does it make any different? Pate is still 50% made of fattened liver from poor geese and ducks!"
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I think there is no such thing as humane foie gras. A number of countries have laws against force feeding of animals or the sale of foie gras because of how it is produced. Some world-renown chefs have shown their support and refuse to include this item in their menu.
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Humans are strange. They eat fattened goose liver and in turn get their livers fat as well. I cannot comprehend why they do that. I made Mr. B. promise not to eat foie gras or any form of pate anymore unless it is made from chicken or pig's liver.
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"Just don't eat livers. They are not good for you anyway." I told Mr. B. as I hug him to console his loss of one of his favorite food.
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In the meantime, the French law states that "Foie gras belongs to the protected cultural and gastronomical heritage of France." In short "we want our goose liver so buzz off!"


Photo credit: La Comptoir Gastronomique

02 November 2009

Pencils


Mr. B. loves pencils. I mean, we have lots of them at home. Well-sharpened pencils bunched up in mugs which Mr. B. rarely used. They are just sitting there - mugs and mugs of well-sharpened pencils bought or collected from many sources. He also has a pencil sharpening which he used whenever one of his pencils became dull.

"I just love pencils!" he declared when I inquired about his fascination for this human writing instrument. "I like seeing them all sharpened, I like the smell of the wood, I like the way they glide smoothly on paper when you write with them, especially the B grades. I feel happy when I see lots of pencils bunched up together like that!"

It didn't make sense to me.

"But I don't like the erasers on the other end," he continued. "I like it when the other end is the end of the pencil where you can see the round graphite lead surrounded by the wood. As a child, I used to sharpen that end too to have a two-headed pencil!"

"Right...." I said walking away from him.

Strange yet reasonable. Perhaps pencils remind Mr. B. of his childhood, of happier times, carefree times that is why it makes him happy to see them all well-sharpened. Oh well, I wonder what other stranger things humans can be fascinated with?

29 October 2009

The Emptiness Of My Mind


We bears have quite simple minds. We eat. We play. We write blogs like this. Human minds are more complex than that, I discovered. In most instances, their minds are cluttered with a lot of unnecessary things but sometimes it could also be totally blank. In between, there is a huge spectrum which I categorize as follows:

Sudden Emptiness - This usually happens when humans are confronted with a question they are not prepared to answer. This phenomenon usually goes together with a blank stare. It only lasts a few seconds and is quite harmless if it doesn't happen very often.

Conscious Emptiness - This usually occur at specific time of the day (evening) or specific days of the week (Saturdays and Sundays). This happens to most humans, Mr. B. included. The symptoms differ. Some would sit on the couch and stare at the television for many hours. Others may sit on a chair and stare at the computer monitor. In both cases, the whole body would be totally or partially motionless. Other symptoms include going out to eat, drink, walk in the park - a whole range of activities.

Forced Emptiness - This only occurs to only a few humans who can not have Conscious Emptiness. Some call it yoga, others call it meditation. The body could be moving very, very slowly until achieving an impossible pose or totally motionless in a sitting position.

Choiced Emptiness - Some humans with unpleasant characters have this. They will remember only the things they want to and forget the things they do not wish to remember. Specific type of humans are prone to these. They usually borrow money (or something) from another human and promise to pay back on a later date.

Total Emptiness - This is the worst kind. Mr. B. said he knows some humans who can be placed in this category. I believe this is genetic. There is another name for this phenomenon that starts with the letter "s" which Mr. B. said is not a nice word. So far, science has found no cure for this. It is a permanent condition.

28 October 2009

Hopeful Travellers

I think life is like a journey. As humans travel along, they encounter a lot of things - things that may be happy or sad, or things that make one mad. There are good days, there are bad days. It's all part of the journey. Some humans stop their vehicles dwelling on the bad parts, others shrug their shoulders and drive along, optimistic that the good bits will come ahead.

There was a point in Mr. B.'s journey when he stopped and refused to continue. This was many, many years ago. Something happened that made him lost all hopes that anything good was waiting down the road. He was there right in the middle of the lonely road, deserted, alone. Then along comes ME! He decided to give it another shot. The days to come could be challenging. But he thought at leas the had my company.

Ten years on and the journey has been quite smooth-sailing, well, driving. There were bad days, but mostly good days. Along the way he found D., who also boarded the vehicle. They took turns driving. It was something great. Something they both wanted.

Now I am happy to take the back seat watching the two of them driving along. I am happy to see two hopeful travellers in the journey of life.

Life could be complicated and frustrating sometimes. But I think there is no need to stop and muse over that for too long. One should just step on the gas and move on.

my philosophy's to travel hopefully
and making each day that I survive
an opportunity to share the company
that welcomes me when I arrive


Video: Travel Hopefully from Lord Andrew Lloyd Webber's musical By Jeeves.

24 October 2009

Life Is Like Sukiyaki

Tonight, Mr. B. made a huge pot of sukiyaki. It's a Japanese steamboat-style dish made with variety of meats and vegetables cooked in a special sauce made of soy sauce, a bit of sugar and mirin (Japanese sweet rice wine). It has lots of stuff in it - thinly sliced beef and pork, cabbage, bok choy, enokitake mushroom, abalone mushroom and 5 kinds of dumplings.

While Mr. B. and D. enjoyed their supper, they talked about a lot of things. Mr. B. complained about this particularly dense person he had to deal with in the funny farm, about hooking up with an old friend on the phone talking about insurance policies and investing in properties. D. had some family issues to deal with but seemed fine. They talked about their past holiday trips and future plans; about how Mr. B. wants to have a Balinese-inspired interior if he ever bought a property of his own. At some point, D. checked Mr. B.'s daily blood pressure record to make sure he is fine.

I think life is like sukiyaki. It is all different things mixed up in one single pot. Sometimes you pick up the things you like first, sometimes you leave the best for last. But in the end, you will finish the entire pot, all happy and satisfied.

It has been a great day today.

Welcome To My Country!


Mr. B. got up very early this morning to attend his visa application interview in preparation for his upcoming business travel. He knew ahead of time that the process would be a rather frustrating one, and he was right.

Getting in to the visa office required a thorough check-in process like that of actually boarding a plane. One must remove anything electronic and metallic from the body, one needs to remove shoes and have them scanned through the x-ray, together with their bags. Long line. Long wait.

There was this little old lady just a few persons in front of Mr. B. She was by herself. She wasn't very sure what to do. Perhaps her first visit to the country. She has been directed all around. Then it was her turn for fingerprint scanning. What usually would take a minute took all of 20 minutes to get her finger photos right. She was told to wash, rub, press, stop shaking, stand farther away, higher, lower - again, and again, and yet again, just to get the perfect scan of her fingerprints. Then it was her turn for interview. Obviously she doesn't speak the language. The foreign interviewer communicated with her in her language asking about her travel plans. Mr. B. overheard "...travelling with a neighbor...", "... leisure travel...". The old lady gave the interviewer a polite bow before leaving the counter.

When it was Mr. B.'s turn to be interviewed, he was assigned to the same foreign interviewer. Mr.B.'s "hello" was not reciprocated. He took one look at Mr. B., skimmed a few pages of his passport, then gave him the claim slip. Mr. B. didn't bother to say "thank you" and left. The "interview" was done within 10 seconds.

"I don't have to go through that when I travel!" I told Mr. B.

"Lucky you. Some people have to undergo some sort of humiliation first in order to get a visa." he said.
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Humans are strange. They allow themselves to be exposed to almost inhuman treatment just to set foot on other human's country. Perhaps this is the effect of mistrust and ignorance among them, or perhaps this is the cause.

19 October 2009

Mastering The Art Of Profitable Blogging


That human on the right is Julie Powell. Seven years ago, she started a blog/project in an attempt to cook all of 524 recipies in the classic cookbook Mastering the Art of French Cooking by the American legend Julia Child in one year. In 2005, the blog was rewritten into a memoir entitled Julie & Julia: 365 Days, 524 Recipes, 1 Tiny Apartment Kitchen, the paperback version of which was retitled Julie and Julia: My Year of Cooking Dangerously. In 2008, writer/director Nora Ephron wrote the screenplay Julie and Julia and turned the book into a hit movie starring the great Meryl Streep and Amy Adams released last month.

While Meryl Streep was great in the movie, I am not here to talk about her acting. I am leaving that to the film critics. I want to talk about the power of blogging and how humans are profitting from it.

Not that making profit is a bad thing. I am just reflecting the fact that the original intention of blogging was to create an ongoing journal or commentary by an individual human to share his or her life and rantings online. In public. For everyone to read. And comment. Even if in the long run, their blog is never read by anyone but them. Blogs often become more than a way to just communicate; they become a way to reflect on life, love or just about anything. A few personal blogs rise to fame, such as Julie Powell's blog, which was made into a movie that opened a month ago (to huge success). The second movie based on a blog is Tucker Max's I Hope They Serve Beer In Hell (a huge failure), where he chronicles his drunken and sexual encounters, a misogynistic comedy I'm sure.

"So, will you sell your paws to be popular?" Mr. B. interupted my train of thoughts.

"It's not a bad idea, is it?" I answered. "I may save you from the funny farm and you don't have to work anymore!"

"Right...." Mr. B. said as he walked away which I found a bit insulting.

Anyhow, I really don't care about being popular. I just want to be able to share my observations and insights about humans in general. That was what I set out to do so that is what I am going to do.

"Will I be featured in your movie too?" Mr. B. shouted from the shower. Arrrgh!

Video: The great Julia Child with the chicken family.

17 October 2009

Becker Behind The Blog: An Exclusive Interview



Russell Sprout, backpacking bear and aspiring travel show host talks to blogger Becker in an exclusive virtual interview about his 100th post celebration.


RS: Congratulations on your 100th post, Becker. How do you feel today?
B: Thank you, Russell, I feel fantastic! I never thought I would start a blog like this. I couldn’t believe that humans would actually read and enjoy it.

RS: It seems like in just a few months, you already have a decent followings judging from your post box and the comments which are mostly positive.
B: That is true. And I am very happy that humans actually like my ranting, well, observations, about their lives.

RS: Where do you get your inspiration from?
B: Mr. B. would be my primary source. I think he live a very colorful life. He has such rich experiences that I can draw from. My friendship with him, the things we share on a daily basis, all these are my sources of inspiration.

RS: Are there any posts that are particularly memorable to you?
B: Sure. The most memorable ones are those that are deeply personal, where I somehow connect with human experiences. These are also the posts where I get most positive feedbacks from readers. I could think of a few now – Did He Die For Me Too? Dancing In The Dark and Daddy’s Boy were particularly emotional for me. To Say Goodbye and The Girl With Kaleidoscope Eyes were written as tributes to Mr. B.’s friends who passed away. Those were emotional as well.

RS: That doesn’t sound like you. A lot of people said that you are quite cynical and critical in real life. Is that true?
B: I could be that way if I wanted to. It could be my means of defense against unpleasant humans or animals. If I did sound like I was being cruel or brutal sometimes, especially to a particular species, it was just me being playful. I hope my readers will understand that.

RS: What about fun stuffs? Any memorable posts on lighter topics?
B: Lots of them! Sometimes I like to poke fun on Mr. B., especially about topics like his age or his weight. There Will Come A Day, His Salad Days, Are You Serious? and Glamorous At 50 comes to mind. I also enjoy writing about music and movies. Those are fun.

RS: How about travel?
B: Since I started this blog, I only got to travel once – to Sydney with Mr. B. and D. It was a super fun trip as you can see in the photos. I also posted a few stories from my trip – A Room With A View, Don’t You Want Me, Baby? and Eating Sydney. I would like to travel more and write more about those trips. I think traveling broadens up a bear’s mind.

RS: Some people say that you are Mr. B.’s alter ego. What can you say about that?
B: I honestly do not like that word – alter ego. It was first invented when schizophrenia was discovered and these people were supposed to live “double” or “multiple” lives. Mr. B. and I are not psychologically identical. We’re best of friends who share a lot of things in common. We are very different in many ways too.

RS: Are you saying that you don’t agree on certain things as well?
B: Definitely! He is a natural worrier. His life is built around the funny farm so I guess that makes up a big part of his character. The Fine Art Of Anger shows how certain situations get into his nerve quite quickly.

RS: Talking about funny farm. You seem to post a lot about it.
B: Oh yes! It started with Funny Farm Adventures which I posted in April. It is actually the place where Mr. B. works. Two readers, Panda and SheepM seem to enjoy my story on the funny farm and its members. There was a follow-up post called Energy Suckers Identified! which I thought was hilarious. That said, Mr. B. forbade me to write too much about the funny farm in fear of losing his job.

RS: That serious?
B: Well, you know how strange humans are. Anything can happen.

RS: What are your plans? What can your readers expect from Becker’s Eyes in the future?
B: I don’t have anything planned in particular, to be honest. I want my blog to be spontaneous. I don’t have a set agenda. But I want it to be fun, entertaining, inspiring and most importantly relevant to the lives of other humans.

RS: Is there anything you wish to say to your readers out there?
B: Oh yes! I want to thank all my readers for checking out my blog, for leaving your comments and suggestions as well as your encouragements. There are a few humans that I need to give my appreciation to – to D. for being so supportive of this blog; to SheepM and Panda for following my posts closely; to my followers Zookeeper, Jim and QQ; to my “silent” supporters Hender, Tiff, Courtney, BB, Bel and Lisa; to Vivian from Chicago; to Wen from London; to Mary from Portland; to Tom from Portsmouth; siennalee, your messages are always heartwarming. To everyone who ever passed this way, I thank you all! Best of all, I want to thank Mr. B. for sharing his life with me, he will be my best friend forever.

RS: It has been great talking to you, Becker. I am sure your reader will continue to support your blog.
B: Thank you so much, Russell. I am leaving this post with a song from David Archuleta. It's called Let's Talk About Love.

15 October 2009

Baby, Remember My Name

In 1980, Alan Parker made a film about a group of young, hopeful students through their studies at the New York High School of Performing Arts. Starring mostly unknown actors, the movie started the careers of Irene Cara and Paul McCrane. The soundtrack brought a number of worldwide hits such as Fame and Out Here On My Own. The film is, of course, Fame. Mr. B. told me that this is one of the two movies he ever saw where the audience actually applauded in the ending, something really rare and special.

Fast forward almost 30 years, someone thought of doing a remake of this classic and employed a choreographer and concert director to direct the film. Fame 2009 was release a few weeks back to generally negative reviews.

Critics mostly point out the movie's "lack of likeable characters" unlike the original one where audience can relate to the pains and struggles of Coco, Montgomery and Ralph. There also seems to be a "lack of resolution" in the movie where none of the characters developed, grew or learned anything. One basher said it best - "Why bother remaking this movie?"

Wanting to have my own take on this. I searched to find the main theme "Fame" online and this is what I got.

I say, eewww!

A lot of humans may be too young to remember the original Fame. If the critics were right, these young people are so unfortunate to only have Fame 2009. This makes me want to revisit the original Fame which Mr. B. has a DVD of.

12 October 2009

Sing Once More

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On the 8th of October, Lord Andrew Lloyd Webber formally held a press conference to launch his new musical Love Never Dies, the sequel to The Phantom of the Opera, to be set in the turn-of-the-century New York, specifically Coney Island. Mr. B. of course, was elated by the announcement. I saw him watched the performance of a song lifted from the musical again and again, all teary-eyed.
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"Now I have something to look forward to again!" he excitedly told me.
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I am not a big fan of Andrew Lloyd Webber and I know that a lot of people don't like him as well. That is why I don't understand why Mr. B. thinks it is a great blessing and privilege to enjoy his music and/or watch his shows. Sure, he wrote music about great people, real and fictional - Jesus, Eva Peron, Jeeves, Joseph and Norma Desmond. He also wrote music about fun things - like trains and cats, and not-so-fun things - like soccer, mysterious woman, mysterious man and confusing love affairs. But he was also accused of plagiarism many times - from rock music to classic opera, although he was never formally proven guilty on anything.
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Somehow, seeing Mr. B. so excited about the whole thing gives me some sort of relief. I know that he will be following this event very closely. As tedious as his life is now, perhaps it is good to have something "to look forward to".
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Perhaps, Baron Lloyd Webber should write a musical called "Bears", then I would be a fan.
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Video : Ramin Karimloo singing Till I Hear You Sing (Once More)

11 October 2009

Fame Or Fortune

This weekend, Mr. B. spent a great deal of time catching up on his favorite TV talent show The X Factor (UK) in YouTube (since the show is not televised here). I find it quite fascinating watching all these aspiring recording artists crying their hearts out if they fail to make it in the competition and cry even harder when they get through to the next round. It's as if that was the last chance in their lives and they cannot afford to fail.

But what really happens when they win the competition? Would their dreams of better lives really come true? Will they be able to live up to burden given to them by the millions of TV voters? Would these TV voters really support them when they finally come out with their records?

I made some research and here are the winners of The X Factor so far:

Steve Brookstein (2004 winner) - One of Mr. B.'s favorite, Brookstein came up with a best-selling album of covers. When he refused to record a second album of covers, his recording company dumped him. He release his second album of mostly originals independently and it didn't chart at all. He is practically forgotten now.

Shayne Ward (2005 winner) - Another one of Mr. B.'s favorite. The Golden Boy of The X Factor released his first album Shayne Ward and followed it up a year after with Breathless, both reaching multiple platinum status. He travelled to Asia to promote his records but it seems that his popularity was limited within the UK.

Leona Lewis (2006 winner) - Probably the only winner that "made it" across the continent with her first album Spirit primarily due to the song Bleeding Love. Her next album Echo will be release in November 2009 and she shall embark on a world tour in 2010.

Leon Jackson (2007 winner) - The "least successful" of the 5 winners so far. While his single When You Believe topped the Christmas chart in 2008, his first album reached only number 4. A number of his concert dates were subsequebtly cancelled due to poor ticket sales.

Alexandra Burke (2008 winner) - Her debut album Overcome shall be in the market 19 October this year. Whether she will be successful or not remains to be seen.

I find myself asking a question: So what changed for them after the glorious finale when they were declared the winners? For Steve, it's back to singing in small venues. For Shayne, waiting for materials for his new album. For Leona, a promise of a long, fruitful career if she can handle fame and fortune well and if she comes out with more songs to match the success of Bleeding Love. For Leon, not much. For Alexandra, probably depends on how her album sells.

Video credit : Leona Lewis - Bleeding Love

05 October 2009

This Old Heart Of Mine


"You have the heart of a 60-year-old man."

That was what the doctor told Mr. B. today after a rigorous physical examination. He went on to explain in clinical details how his heart is showing signs of being old. Signs that the doctor said can be reverted if Mr. B. can do more cardiovascular exercises, watch his diet carefully and lose at least 20 kilos (that is 44 lbs) of body weight. The rest of him was fine and can be corrected once he follows a very healthy lifestyle.

For the record, Mr. B. keep his weekday diet strictly on soy milk and cereal in the morning, cos lettuce and grilled white meat for lunch and at least 3 fruits a day. The thing he can't do is exercise because he cannot stand on his feet for too long.

On his way back home in the pouring rain, Mr. B. can't help but think of D. He also thought about his family, his friends. People who depended on him. People who cared about him. He thought of the funny farm and the farmers. The unfinished businesses. About finances, retirement, future. There is only so much a heart can take. He thought of his heart growing tired and old before he does. Suddenly, Mr. B. felt the weight of the world on his shoulders.

"I think the doctor is right," Mr. B. told me tonight. "I have the heart of an old man."


Photo credit : Jane Linders

03 October 2009

Love Slips Away


In my study of humans, I found that nothing is said, written, sang, drawn or filmed as much as love among humans. Yes, that four-letter word called love. While I am not exactly a fan of great love stories, I took to reading some of the classic stories of immense love affair, unrequited love, unconditional love and all the other varieties in between.

Many of Mr. B.'s friends are what humans call married, meaning, they attach themselves to one particular human and start building their little clans. Over the years, he has seen the best and the worst of them - from dreamy weddings to ugly break-ups.

"But I don't understand how two people who vowed to love each other at one point can after a few years become the worst of enemies?" I asked him.

"Love slips away." Mr. B. answered like an old wise man.

He told me stories about couples he know who had devastating break-ups, the running away and hiding, the affairs and infidelities; about how couples lost interest on each other to the point of not even physically touching each other. He told me that people grow apart and their differences that once make them unique and interesting becomes annoying, intolerable and unacceptable.
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How sad.

I still don't understand how two people who vowed to love each other at one point can after a few years become the worst of enemies. Or at least become total strangers. Perhaps the love humans vow to each other was an illusion. A fantasy created by a moment of passion.
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I don't think love slipped away. I think love was never there in the first place.

Leave My Eggplants Alone!


Everyone seems to be talking about Farmville these days. It's even in the news. Anyone who doesn't know this virtual farming game in Facebook must be living in the cave for a while. The addiction seems to have grown out of proportion that some companies prohibit playing the game during working hours (duh). Some people even wake up in the middle of the night to water their crops or make sure that no one steals the fruits/vegetables of their labors.

I personally went online to check what the fuss was all about. I got bored after the first 30 minutes. This impatient bear does not see the point of waiting for a couple of hours or even days for strawberries or eggplants to grow. And I don't see the fun of turning the 6 plots of land into another Neverland. I turn to Mr. B. tonight and ask if he is into it.

"Of course not! I work in a Funny Farm every day of my life. Isn't that enough?" he retorts while munching on snacks and watching TV.

Perhaps so. I heard that in the Funny Farm, the perpetual presence of the Black Sheep is annoying. It has the nasty habit of moving its bowels right on the crops or wherever it feels like it or other humans to step on. There's the Ugly Duckling that never turns into a swan. It remains ugly and stupid and you can't sell it for a single coin. Once in a while, the Brown Cow would appear but only produce a small amount of the much needed chocolate milk. Of course there are neighbors too. But they never help. They steal. They wait until your head is turned (or worse, while you're asleep) before to do it. If they don't get to steal, they trample on your crops so your farm won't be better off than theirs.

As an added bonus, the Funny Farm has its own unique sound effects as well. Instead of the animal sounds, you get the barking of the head honcho, the whining of the diva, the screaming matches of the head honcho and one of the farmers, the long nagging of the prima donna and the sobs of the honcho's victim.

I think I have a very good idea for a virtual game. I am calling Zynga.

29 September 2009

Life / Track

"I bet I can make a movie about your life using Madonna's music as soundtrack!" I declared to Mr. B. tonight. "Here is how it would go..."

Everybody (1983): A teenage Mr. B. fascinated by the video of this singer called Madonna. Cool outfit. Cool dance steps. Life has just begun. University life is fun.

Borderline (1983): Stargazer disco. One with a high ceiling at opens up to the sky. He is literally dancing with the stars!

Open Your Heart (1986): Mr. B. enjoying earning his own living. First relationship. Weekend with friends. Checking out all the best dance clubs in the city. His only problem is which direction to comb his hair that day.

True Blue (1986): He thinks he can be a great DJ. Fearlessly presented himself to the owner of the best dance club in Manila but is told he needs to invest in a professional player in order to practice at home. There goes his dream.

Who’s That Girl? (1987): A hopeful Mr. B. leaves Manila and lands in Taipei in search of a better life. A new kid in town. He gives himself 3-5 years, then he shall move on.

Into The Groove (Dub Version) (1987): NASA – one of the hippest places to dance in Taipei. Mr. B. lands in his first job as an account executive in an advertising agency. He buys himself a Walkman and invites a girl to a dance club.

Like A Prayer (1989): Second relationship. Pure and innocent. Wide-eyed and hopeful. Everything seems to be going well until they had to part.

Rain (1993): London. Gatwick Airport. Mr. B. cries on his way back to Taipei knowing that he can never mend a broken relationship as another person is involved now.

Ray of Light (1998): La Vida Loca. Third relationship. Whirlwind. Love and passion unlike anything he ever experienced before.

Nothing Really Matters (1998): A devastating break-up. The darkest point of the movie. Xanax and sleeping aids. Hate and revenge prevails. Then a small light of hope – me, Becker, appears in his life.

Music / American Life (2003): A more matured and calm Mr. B. DJing in a club – something he always dreamed of doing. He meets D. It isn’t love at first sight. It just grows.

Hung Up (2008): Mr. B. and D. still together. Relationship stronger than ever. D. meets Mr. B.'s parents. All is well.

Celebration (2009): What else is there to say? Mr. B. may be too old to dance but he still loves Madonna's music. He holds D. hand and looks back on the life he had. This is just the beginning, he says to himself. I smile.

27 September 2009

That's My Boy!

Scott James is plain looking. At 21, he is autistic and never left the house for 7 years except for schooling because he had difficulty in connecting socially. Last week, he stood in front of two thousand and sang You Raise Me Up with all his heart. Auditioning for one of the world's biggest talent show X Factor is daunting enough for normal people. It must have taken a lot of courage for people like Scott to do it. With the help and support of Mother Sharon and Teacher Linzie, he wowed the audience, received 4 yes's from the judges and got through for the next round.

It is true that when God closes one door, He opens a window. Perhaps from there, Scott can see a bright future for himself.

Video credit : ITV X Factor

23 September 2009

Stranger Among Us




Tonight, Mr. B. and I watched Stranger Among Bears, a television documentary about Charlie Vandergaw, a 70-year-old man in Alaska who constructed a cabin in the middle of the woods and called it Bear Haven and fed grizzly and black bears for many years. In the show, Vandergaw would touch, feed, pet and even film the bears similar to what deceased eco-warrior Timothy Treadwell used to do before he was eventually killed and devoured by grizzlies in 2003.
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Vandergaw was once a hunter and killed many bears in his lifetime. But at some point, he stopped the practice and started coexisting with them in a more friendly way in the last 20 years. The Alaskan government recently charged Vandergaw with 20 counts of illegally feeding game - a charge that could put him in jail for a year and fine him $10,000.
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A lot of people think that what this gentleman is doing is actually harmful and upsets the natural eco-system because he has habituated the bears to depend on him for food, and made them used to being around people. They believe that bears should stay in the wild.
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We haven't seen the last episode of the series, but it seems like Vandergaw's life with bears in the Alaskan wilderness is coming to an end due to increasing pressure from state authorities, including a raid by state troopers, plus the fact that he is getting too old. He might be saying goodbye to his beloved bears for the last time.
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"The government will never put me to jail for having you and the rest bears here at home." Mr. B. said proudly after the show.
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"And that I will never attack you!" I replied. "I will only put you in my blog as a revenge if you are not nice to me."



Video and photo credit : Animal Planet

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